- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2000

NEW YORK
Here's a celebrity update: Rene Russo is older than 45 and still emphasis on the word still sizzles.
Here's an update from Miss Russo: Get over it, already.
"Everybody comes up to me and says, 'You're over 40, you're over 40, you're over 40.' It's all I get," she says.
That's what happens when you slink around in a sheer dress among other things on the screen. Miss Russo did so in last year's "The Thomas Crown Affair," a caper flick that stunned her by touching off a national debate about age and gender.
"Maybe it's that I'm naive, but I don't think of myself as an age. I don't think that I'm limited by age," she says.
The response is typical of the 46-year-old Miss Russo, who in an interview comes across as equal parts idealistic and contradictory, with a generous helping of self-effacing humor.
She reads the Bible but swears like a Teamster. She's a former top model who detests the business of beauty. She's a hard-working actress who would rather be hard at work in her garden.
"I was never the kind of person who cared much what people thought about me," she says. "I was a high-school dropout; I was a loner. I know I'm here for a purpose so I figure when push comes to shove, I'd rather tell my truth and let it go where it goes."
Her truth is this: She grew up poor and fatherless in Los Angeles' bleak Burbank neighborhood. Already insecure, she wore a body cast from age 10 to 14 while battling scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.
Miss Russo left school at 15 and inspected lenses at an eyeglass factory until, at 17, she caught the eye of a talent agent in the parking lot of a Rolling Stones concert.
Then, virtually overnight, she was on the cover of Vogue.
Was she happy? Proud? Avenged? Not Miss Russo. This former gawky teen who grew into an eye-popping beauty pulls few punches about the beauty biz.
"It has complete disregard for anything you are on the inside, who you are as a person, what you are, how you feel, any personality, any spirit it just wipes it out," she says.
"I got letters from young women that wanted to know, 'How did you get your hair that way?' Or 'Your skin's so pretty.' Meanwhile, my skin's broken out and they retouched it; meanwhile, it's taken me two hours to look that way," she says.
"We're living in a fantasy world, OK? You can't live up to that kind of fantasy. And that's what we're told, this is how you need to look or be. That's scary."
Instead, Miss Russo turned inward and upward.
"I woke up one day, and I thought: 'You know what? There's more than this,' " she says. "For me, I needed to know that I was going to be taken care of, no matter what. That was a lot less scary for me, that no matter what I went through and there would be some really hard times that the end result was going to be wisdom and that I was going to be able to get through it and persevere."
She found answers in Christianity, and her faith is inclusive and personal. When she quotes from the Bible often prefaced by a "Here's where I'll get nutty" introduction it's usually from the story of King Solomon, who had everything but still was unfulfilled.
"Rene understands herself," says Des McAnuff, director of Miss Russo's latest movie, "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle," based on the 1950s and '60s cartoon. "She's very humble, and it's not false modesty. She's very grounded that way her head isn't in the clouds."
When Miss Russo's modeling career began drying up to her horror, she was asked to wear a pillow to be photographed for a maternity-wear catalog she made the leap to television and then the big screen. She was 33.
"I needed the money," she says, laughing. "So I did it, and I promised myself that if I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't stay in it for the money. I'm laughing because I'm real close to getting out of it as we speak."
Miss Russo specialized in playing the brainy and feisty but always vulnerable girl-next-door types in "Major League," "One Good Cop," "Ransom," "Tin Cup," "Outbreak," "Get Shorty," "In the Line of Fire" and the last few "Lethal Weapon" films.
She married at age 29, a union that lasted only 18 months, and then she remarried in 1992 to screenwriter Dan Gilroy ("Freejack," "Outbreak"). They have a daughter, Rose, 6.
Miss Russo had a nice film career not particularly challenging, but nice. Then along came the role of Catherine Banning, an insurance investigator opposite Pierce Brosnan in "Thomas Crown."
Suddenly, she became a middle-aged sex symbol.
"It really wasn't about the acting," she says. "I was pretty disappointed, and then I went on the road, and I realized that I had an opportunity to talk to a lot of women from all ages, and they talked to me about how sad they were and how bad they felt about themselves as women.
"We live in a culture that basically says, 'Defy your age.' So even at 20, you're at the mercy of that even at 20, girls are having their faces done. So what was really beautiful about that is I was able to say: 'Beauty comes in all different kinds of shapes and sizes and ages.' "
Miss Russo's latest role is as another sexpot. She plays Natasha to Jason Alexander's Boris opposite a cartoon moose and squirrel.
"When I was 6, I watched the originals, but it was a little too smart for me. I didn't like Rocky and Bullwinkle so much I liked Natasha and Boris," she says.
"Maybe even then my sense of humor was kind of dry," she says. "I didn't like the moose and squirrel I wanted to kill them."
Looking at Miss Russo, one can see clearly why she was a natural choice to play Natasha: She has long arms and legs that glide on for what seems like yards.
"I knew I could look like her," she says of the Morticia Addams-like character who minces about with a thick Transylvanian accent.
Next up for Miss Russo is anyone's guess. She might tour gardens in Santa Barbara, Calif., and feed her habit for landscape architecture. Or she might play with Rose.
Or she might just enjoy the ride.
"Every day, every birthday candle I blow out, every penny I throw over my shoulder in a wishing well, every time my daughter says, 'Let's make a wish on a star,' there's one thing I wish for: wisdom."

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